Reflections on Tom C. Frost, Jr. ’45

8/21/2018 by Mark D. Desjardins, TMI Headmaster 1999-2005

2008 Chapel consecration: (from left) Rev. Scott Brown, Dr. Mark Desjardins, the Rt. Rev. James Folts and Tom C. Frost Jr.

Tom Frost was a banker, philanthropist, civic leader, institution builder, family man, and Servant leader. And yet, I found his greatest gift was that of a teacher. I should know. I’ve spent my entire professional career of thirty years teaching, coaching, advising, and running schools. Moreover, as a student, including my undergraduate and graduate studies, I have been blessed to work with some amazing and thought provoking teachers. Individuals who pushed, cajoled, nurtured, and inspired me to think harder, write better, and ultimately challenged me to be a more contemplative person. However, no individual has taught me more about life, values, leadership and service than Tom Frost.

I will never forget the day that Tom, who had chaired the search committee, and Bishop James Folts came to our home on campus to inform me that I had been selected as the new head of TMI. I was honored, I told both Mr. Frost and Bishop Folts, that at the age of 32, the Board of Governors had faith in my abilities to lead TMI. Before I accepted the role, however, I told Bishop Folts that I would only serve on one condition. I think I caught him a bit off guard, and somewhat perplexed in his deep South Texas drawl he responded, “Well, Mark, what might that be?” I replied, “Bishop, my answer is yes, only if Tom agrees to serve as the Board Chair during my tenure.” I’m not sure that is what Tom had in mind when he came into our home, in fact, watching Bishop Folts chuckle out loud pretty much confirmed that notion. Never one to waste a moment, Bishop Folts leaned over and grabbed Tom’s elbow, and said, “well now Mr. Frost, do we have a deal.” Tom’s extended hand met mine and the best teacher student relationship I ever had was born.

Tom’s re-entry back into the life of TMI was timely. In 1988, due to a variety of factors, TMI was in a difficult position and the school leadership was thinking it might be forced to shut down and go the way of former rival Peacock Military Academy. Fortunately, due to the hard work and diligence of many thoughtful civic leaders, alumni and Episcopal clergy, TMI was spared. Shortly after, I had arrived on the scene fresh from a stint in admissions at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT. Growing up in Austin, TX, as the son of a University of Texas professor, I never imagined my educational journey would take me back to the Lone Star state, but as I interviewed for my post as Upper School Head I became energized meeting with TMI advocates like A. Baker Duncan, Tom Frost and James Folts. Clearly, they had a vision for this wonderful and historical school.

Tom’s love, appreciation and affection for TMI were unrivaled. He realized that he had been shaped and formed during his time at TMI. The lifetime values of honor, integrity, service, and grit had been reinforced within him during his years on campus. He was grateful. He saw his stint as board chair as yet another way to repay the school that had been so formidable in his own development. Tom was tough. He was honest. He was hard on me. During my first board meeting as head, I had altered the agenda due to a phone call I had received from a board member who was coming from the Valley and had been delayed. Tom began the meeting and went right to agenda item one. I told Tom, well that item had been moved to later on in the meeting and we could move to item 2. Tom looked at me, and his hand reached into his pocket and he started juggling some loose change (a sign that I later learned meant something tough was about to be said) and Tom announced, “Let the record state that the board chair is in charge of the agenda and if any changes are made, the board chair needs to be consulted in advance.” I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed in a board meeting. Lesson learned!

Tom and I had a standing phone meeting every Monday morning at 8AM. Even if nothing was on the agenda he wanted to touch base and ask me about my kids, how I was doing, how my wife was doing. At the end of every school year I would head to his office downtown and go over my annual evaluation. I scored myself. Tom scored me. Then we would sit back and talk for the next three hours and be reflective about TMI, leadership, my faith, my role as a husband and father. Those sessions with Tom were priceless. We had a chance to peek into each other’s souls and be vulnerable. He often shared stories of the mistakes he had made and what he learned from them and how I might apply those lessons to my own journey. He was overly patient and incredibly wise. Like any great teacher, he knew when he could press me, and he also knew when I needed his full support. Tom always had my back. Always. And he had the back of TMI. When the school needed a random repair that was not in the budget, Tom took care of it. When he wanted to elevate the quality of the development office by adding more personnel, he covered it. When we added new athletic programming, he covered it. Tom’s greatest gift was his constant insistence that we become debt free. When we proposed a budget that was $500,000 more than we had to spend, Tom reached for his pants, pocket, jiggled some change, and said, “let the record be clear that if this budget passes, I will no longer be chair. It’s fiscally irresponsible of us and some tough decisions need to be made.” We got to work and made some difficult choices, but more importantly those decisions over time put us on track to erase the debt. It was a seminal moment and Tom lead the charge in his own unique way.

Even after I departed TMI, I maintained a fairly constant correspondence with Tom. We exchanged NCAA basketball tournament selections every year. We bet a dollar. Tom always won. My wife made sure he would get our family Christmas card and Tom would always write a personal note back admiring how the family had grown. My last meaningful exchange with him was a little more than five years ago. St. John’s School was interested in purchasing a major tract of land and we needed a loan of 90 million dollars and I had alerted Tom that we were approaching Frost Bank. Tom called me back, (and he noted that he had to go through two connections to get to me), and he told me that they were honored we were seeking them out and if we defaulted, “I guess that would mean Frost Bank would own the second best school in Texas.” We secured the loan. I learned a few days later that that loan was the single largest loan in the history of the bank. As I often say, somehow “it all goes back to TMI.”

With Tom’s passing we are losing a giant of a man. He practiced on a daily basis the St. Luke’s notion of to whom much is given, much is expected. I learned the most important lesson from Tom. The size of your heart and soul matter far more than the degrees you have earned. He was a constant force for good. He used his gifts to make those around him better. May his memory be eternal. Amen!

Mark Desjardins is currently in his 9th year as Headmaster of St. John’s School in Houston, Texas. He was Headmaster at TMI from 1999-2005 and came to San Antonio as Head of Upper School in the fall of 1996.